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The National Broadband Plan "Fork-in-the-Road"

A scan of the major comments just delivered to the FCC on the National Broadband Plan (which is due to Congress February 2010), spotlighted the big broadband policy "fork-in-the-road" decision that the FCC now has before it.

  • One road of the fork-in-the-road, continues down the road of:
    • Promoting facilities-based competition;
    • Encouraging private investment in a wide diversity of technologies; and
    • Facilitating a cooperative public-private partnership to address unserved broadband areas and lagging adoption of widely available broadband. 
  • This road:
    • Involves no loss of the substantial competitive momentum that exists in the American broadband market;
    • Facilitates public-private cooperation to accelerate, uninterupted, the shared goal of achieving universal broadband access as soon as practicable; and
    • Produces the most and broadest economic growth and job creation.  
  • Simply, this road is all about moving forward together towards a worthy and achievable goal that can bring the economy and society great benefits.  

The other road in the fork-in-the-road was best encapsulated by FreePress' comments to the FCC 6-8-09. Many view FreePress as the leading voice calling for a complete overhaul of U.S. broadband policy; they are the operator of and a driving force behind  

FreePress believes "The FCC's broadband plan must chart a new direction for technology policy for this country."

  • That "new direction" is the functional equivalent of a "U-turn" and moving backward about a decade. That "new direction would be a de facto "do-over" and reversal of the broadband policy set by the Kennard-FCC near the end of the Clinton-Gore Adminstration.
  • Specifically, FreePress recommends in its public comments that the FCC:
    • Turn around, go back and "revisit" ..."every major regulatory decision since the 1996 Act..." (p. 5); and
    • Go back all the way to 1999 and do-over FCC Chairman Kennard's decision to encourage facilities-based broadband competition, i.e. "reverse the foundational mistake of its broadband policy framework by reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service," (p.5) (A "telecommunications services" classification would mean common carrier regulation of broadband prices, terms and conditions).  

In addition, to advising that the FCC move backwards a decade, Free Press also advises that the FCC and Congress put the proverbial "cart before the horse" in recommending that extremely controversial net neutrality rules should receive equal policy priority with the achievement of the high-consensus, Congressional goal of universal broadband:

  • "Congress should concurrently pass a law to place these nondiscrimination protections in the Communications Act." (p. 6)
  • Why FreePress' advice puts the "cart before the horse" is that it insists on implementing its version of perfect broadband access before much of the country gets any broadband access at all.

Finally, despite some net neutrality proponents claims that  an "'extreme' version of net neutrality is never what advocates have sought" -- i.e. zero tolerance for any bit management or prioritization at all -- FreePress, the leading advocate for net neutrality via its operation of, is still strongly advocating the "extreme net neutrality" of no bit interference in its FCC comments on the National Broadband Plan:

  • "No Internet packets should be given priority over others -- whether the priority comes in the form of access, latency, or bandwidth." (p. 163)
    • (This extreme net neutrality position would overturn FCC policy allowing for "reasonable network management" and it would totally prohibit any network cybersecurity to protect consumers, businesses, the economy or the Nation from cyber-attack or cyber-crime.)  
  • "Second, nondiscrimination rules must prohibit network operators from selling or offering any capacity to prioritize some Internet packets over others, whether to a third party or to an affiliate." (p.164) 
    • (This extreme net neutrality would effectively outlaw the existing diversity of products, services, tiers, prices, speeds and features in the marketplace that meet consumers' wide diversity of needs, wants and means. Moreover, it would disincent any private broadband investment, because it would offer no opportunity for competition, innovation or return on investment.)
  • "Finally, nondiscrimination rules must prohibit Internet access providers from charging additional fees to allow specific types of Internet content, applications or services to be used."
    • (This extreme net neutrality position would be grossly unfair, requiring the vast majority of light to average broadband users to heavily subsidize the high cost of serving the 5% of bandwidth hogs.)

In closing, the real big decision for the FCC in devising its National Broadband Plan for Congress is choosing which road to take at the fork-in-the-road ahead.

  • Does the FCC choose the consensus broadband road that is proven to move most everyone forward -- together and most quickly?
  • Or does the FCC choose FreePress' "extreme" road which explicitly would require the FCC to move backwards ten years to "do-over" the last ten years of FCC/court broadband policy decisions?